Yeldon a reluctant star for the Tide
August, 7, 2013
By Alex Scarborough | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaAlabama running back T.J. Yeldon is a man of few words and many yards."Produced the best season by a freshman running back in the history of Alabama football … the heir apparent to Eddie Lacy in a long line of elite running backs for the Crimson Tide … set Alabama freshman records for rushing yards (1,108) and equaled Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram's freshman record of 12 rushing touchdowns … named the Dixie Howell Memorial Most Valuable Player of the 2012 A-Day Game, after arriving on campus in January of 2012." -- 2013 Alabama Football Media Guide
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- His biography says more than he ever will. Quiet to the point of discomfort, T.J. Yeldon is a reluctant young superstar at the University of Alabama.
Reading about himself mentioned in historic tones might cause him to blush. Eddie Lacy wasn't the "heir apparent" to Trent Richardson in 2012. Instead, the media guide called him simply "the next player up." Mark Ingram ended up an Alabama legend, but he wasn't compared to school greats such as Shaun Alexander or Bobby Humphrey immediately after his first season. Rather, the 2009 prospectus said Ingram's skills were "simply too much to keep off the field."
Expectations are everywhere around Yeldon, who burst onto the scene last season by rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown in the nationally televised opener against Michigan. Those 11 carries in Cowboys Stadium were enough to set the first of many school records -- the first UA player to break the rushing century mark in his debut. From then on, everyone knew who No. 4 was in the Alabama backfield. He didn't talk to the media because of the school's policy regarding freshmen, but the way he ran with power and speed was enough to speak volumes about the player he'd become.
When the preseason All-SEC team was announced at SEC Media Days in July, Yeldon was the top vote-getter on offense. He beat out Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel by a whopping 102 votes even though his level of celebrity is dwarfed by that of the Heisman Trophy winner. In fact, Yeldon didn't even come to media days. The shy sophomore stayed behind in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and relished the anonymity that's soon to vanish. For now, he can get away with walking to class and going to the grocery store without being interrupted.
"Many people don't know my face yet," he said.
Pick up any poster or media guide and you'll see his face, though. Yeldon was able to hide behind Lacy a year ago, but that's not the case anymore. He couldn't duck reporters on Sunday, fidgeting and swaying side to side in his first time speaking with the local media since signing with the Tide more than a year ago. He kept his answers concise and to the point. When asked what he'd do when people did recognize him and want to speak, he said matter-of-factly that he'd "talk to them, I guess."
There's not much the Daphne, Ala., native wants to say. He admits he's not a people person. His high school coach, Glenn Vickery, called him a "man of who few words" who "doesn't open up and talk to many people."
"I don't like talking, for real, but I can't run from it, so I just get used to it," Yeldon said.
He might not enjoy the limelight on a personal level, but there's no doubt that changes when he puts on a helmet and shoulder pads. With Lacy now in training camp with the Green Bay Packers, it's Yeldon's turn as the Tide's featured tailback. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a backup in 2012. What will he do when he's asked to carry the ball 15-20 times a game?
"He's a great player," said Alabama utility back Jalston Fowler. "I'm looking for big things for him this year. With me in front of him, I'm going to try to help him improve his stock."
Yeldon said he spent the offseason honing the technical parts of his game, especially his ability to pick up the blocking scheme. And while he doesn't have any personal goals for the year, he knows there's a lot more he can accomplish with a season under his belt.
"Be more of a leader, help the younger guys, do what I have to do on the field to make myself and the team better and make us win games," he said. "Everyone can be better; just improve what you didn't improve on last year."
Rooming with Lacy before games helped Yeldon learn how to handle the spotlight, but don't expect him to change who he is. He's not going to suddenly incorporate a spin move into his repertoire on the field and he's not about to make any flashy moves away from the field, either.
"I just hang out with my friends, play video games, chit-chat, go out to eat," he said. "It's what I always do. Low key."